Kamby Bolongo Mean River named one of 25 Important Books of the 2000s by HTML Giant

KBMR was named one of 25 Important Books of the decade by HTML Giant. And was a Page One selection of New & Noteworthy Books by Poets & Writers Magazine.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

No news today - Guest Post - Laird Hunt

Poisoned Waters

In the late summer of 1990 I spent a week trying to learn to surf in a fishing village not far from Sendai on the eastern coast of Japan. There were five or six of us in an old wooden house – three or four Japanese guys, me and my friend Mike. We had been invited by the son of one of the English teachers in my school. The school was in Kumagaya, a few hours away, far from the sea. At the school I taught seven classes a day in windowless rooms the size of large closets. These were not necessarily always dreary sessions but the memory — here, now — of being on the coast, with those guys, in a large, airy old house is a good one.

We slept on the floor, it goes without saying. One of the guys ground his teeth all night. Another of the guys, Koji, was a looker and spent a lot of time talking to his girlfriends. The third guy, whose nickname was Skeleton, was very tall. The fourth guy, if there was one, I can’t remember.

The guys were well-equipped for their surfing labors. They and all the other surfers on the beach had good gear. Good gear was important for sporting activity in Japan. Waves were important, too, but there weren’t a lot of them that week. Enough though that Mike and I, who had never been on surf boards before (or since), got smashed repeatedly onto the hard sand. We also got scraped up, lacking wet-suits, by the wax on our boards. What the fuck, right? It’s pathetic, grotesque even to talk about surfing in those waters, I know that, but there the memory is, there is sits, bobs, attempts to stand.

So, anyway, we tried. Koji and crew were okay. They caught waves. Mike and I may eventually have caught a wave or two as well. Mainly though I remember the hard sand stuff and a bunch of guys in good gear bobbing in the water and the blue sky and the warm sun.

Then we played beach volleyball. I think I got a little aggressive and wacked the ball into someone’s face. That wasn’t nice. Then a typhoon struck. We spent days in the old house. I think we may have played cards. Poker for yen. Certainly we drank beer. Conversed. Told jokes. One day we ventured out to a bathhouse. Some of the local Yakuza were there. One had a missing finger. All were tattooed. We laughed and pointed at each other. You know. The hottest bath was hot enough to make you cry. “You” being me and Mike. There had been some horsing around before the bath part. During the spigot part. But during the bath part everyone just sat still and tried to keep it together.

Generally, we ate a lot of rice and fish and seaweed. Ramen too. At night the guy who ground his teeth ground his teeth. Or is that grinded? I wish I could remember what Skeleton was like when he was sleeping. Actually, I can. Only I don’t know how to write it. Koji probably slept handsomely. The years go by. Mike and I probably snored.

A few days ago someone asked me to write something featuring water that has been poisoned. They meant write about Japan. The rain from the typhoon has grown very warm in my memory of it, but quite possibly we were shivering a lot during that so-called week of surfing. I wasn’t much liked, but Mike was popular. I was just starting to try to write and was already a little distant. Now, radiation from the Fukushima plant is leaking into the ocean. Some of the leak is deliberate. Part of a strategy. According to some international experts this is not a problem. It is hard to know what they could possibly mean by this. Or what they think they mean by this. People say stuff. I think of the scientists in all those Japanese nuclear horror monster movies. Saying stuff. What are they saying? What can they mean?

Meanwhile, Skeleton is kind of curled up in my memory of him sleeping. He is smiling too. That kid is still grinding his teeth. The Yakuza guy’s finger is still gone. We are all still bobbing in the waters. Much of Sendai was wiped out by the tsunami. I’m sure that little wooden house we spent those days in all those years ago now was too.

Laird Hunt is the author of a book of short stories, mock parables and histories, The Paris Stories (2000), originally from Smokeproof Press, though now re-released by Marick Press, and four novels, The Impossibly (2001), Indiana, Indiana (2003), The Exquisite (2006) and Ray of the Star (2009) all from Coffee House Press. His translation from the French of Oliver Rohe’s Vacant Lot is recently out from Counterpath Press.

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